We’ve got to Let It Go

I’m always a little in awe of @shropshiresbm blogs and I read a timely retweet of Are you a next generation business leader? with interest and optimism. I was inspired, as was the intention of the theme, to consider myself an ambitious business leader, with the potential to go as far as I wish to. “There is no glass ceiling” is an inspiring ‘call to arms’ to achieve, collaborate, get qualified, lead, fly… but then that nagging disquiet floods in. Because in the back of my mind a small voice reminds me “but you love being a School Business Manager”.

Yes. I do. I love the variety and the broad skill set needed to lead all those different non-teaching functions in a school. But I am fully aware that I have got to Let It Go. I know that my job, in its present form, is disappearing over the horizon. 
I am in no doubt that our profession is about to change significantly. The government’s attempt to mount the first step on the Change Management Ladder by ‘Creating a Sense Of Urgency’ back-fired dramatically when they had to u-turn on the policy of forcing all schools to become an Academy by 2022. As a result, schools with the drive and resources to take up the leadership reins have been left hanging and everyone is confused by the continuing debate. 

Of course, we are told that the policy is still, quietly, going ahead, but without any momentum it is clear that the process is going to be piecemeal, ineffective, damaging and slow. It will also lack the required buy-in from Governors and SLT to make conversion a success for every school. 

And, as a result, step 2 is becoming unachievable. Unless school leaders can be convinced that change is necessary, they are never going to join together to ‘Form Strong Coalitions’ in order to weather the storms of change. Why would any school add to their already significant workload to follow what is still a rather vague idea promoted because it ‘might’ improve delivery and cost effectiveness?

Yes. You picked that up correctly. The required formation of Multi Academy Trusts is not the change that is coming. It is just step 2 on an 8 step process. ‘Communicating the Vision’ doesn’t come until step 4.

The glaring fact is that a Single Unit Academy or School cannot continue to operate in splendid isolation because it is clear that the funding model is not sustainable. 

So here is my idea for ‘Creating the required Sense Of Urgency’ that I believe every SBM will understand and hopefully we can use it to help us all get on step 1 of the Change Management Ladder. If you like, this is my ‘call to arms’.

Take hold of your school budget and project it forward to 2025. Use the same staff and add 1% cost of living every year, also add 1% to both pensions every year and 2% NI in 2022 (there is going to have to be a cash injection into the NHS at some point.) Then minus 1% of your income in 2021 and leave the following years at the same level of funding. 

Now do you see why there is an urgency to change the system? It is unaffordable, unsustainable and unrealistic in a modern Britain with its current size and diversity of population. 

So I am also going to be so bold and tell you that I think it is time for all SBMs to take the lead in this. Yes, it is going to mean your job changes out of all recognition. Yes, it means you are going to have to decide in which direction you want to take your leadership role. Yes, it means significant change is coming and we don’t actually know yet what that change is going to be. (Step 4 remember?)

And, if I may, I am going to stand beside @shropshiresbm to tell you that you need to be ready. To tell you that it is up to us SBMs to lead on this. That it is up to you. You absolutely do need to #Bethechange. 

Education Funding РMy view 

In 2013 I graduated from Warwick University with an MBA. An achievement completed while working full time as a School Business Manager and Mum/StepMum to 5 children, and one of which I am immensely proud. 

The reason I enjoyed my MBA so much was that I took all the taught business theories, models and practice and considered whether and how it applied to the field of Education. Of course, I was able to have some weird and “out there” ideas, swapping ‘profits’ for ‘results’ safe in the knowledge that the course was only looking for demonstration that I could apply the theory to practice. 

My final dissertation, on the changing shape of secondary education with a focus on Academy conversion, suggested some likely shapes in the future, some of which are actually now being discussed more widely. 

Back in the real world, I realise that approaching education as a whole field, or even on an individual academy basis, and applying business theory and models is not a very popular view. Those on the front line often want education to be altruistic, a public sector service where we are in it for love, not money, not growth and certainly not (shock, horror) profit!

It might be a controversial viewpoint but i believe that as much as teachers, education leaders and politicians will tell you that what they are offering is based on the needs of the child, it isn’t. I believe education today is based on historic inequalities, inappropriate white elephants to placate a minority and a political desire to avoid “rocking the boat”.

If education were based on the needs of the child, every single one in the UK would carry with them a set funding minimum amount (that is the same all over the country) to enable them to go to a well maintained, well run and well (centrally) funded school local to them.

In addition, specific needs of the individual child or the local demographic of the school would attract extra funding so that, for example, pupil premium income for schools to support students living in poverty or deprivation was not reliant on their parents claiming free school meals.

Before you shout me down, of course there are some exemptions, differences and fine detail to add into this idea. But please can you tell me why are we in a position when a student in one area is getting ¬£2000 more funding than a student in an area of identical demographic? Why do we find that secondaries are losing out because they happen to be in a county with a large number of small primary schools? How is it fair that parents have to fight for SEN funding because their home is in a different county to their nearest school? And why do I find myself, in an F40 county, faced with a “fairer Funding Formula” that is going to actually reduce my per pupil funding?

We cannot keep paying historically elevated funding to schools in some areas of the UK while others are struggling to provide the basics through lack of funding. 

Of course, I realise that the required seismic shift to get us to the point where every child is equally and appropriately funded in this country seems, at the moment, to be too big a reach. It is going to take a brave political party many years of balancing change with minimum funding guarantees, and it certainly isn’t going to be a vote winner. But just “because its always been done like that” does not mean we shouldn’t try  to change, to ensure every child in the UK is given an equal and sustainable education. Otherwise we are failing them all.